Sunday, March 20, 2011


If you look at a map of Chicago, you'll quickly figure out that it's set up like a grid. A sheet of graph paper. A marvelous thing when you're a limo driver in a hurry, as the numbering system for addresses is the purest form of simplicity. State and Madison is 0 North and 0 West and the entire city fans out from that point with numbers increasing as you move away from the center of the city.

On the northwest side, where I've worked for the better part of 35 years, there are exceptions to the foolproof method of self-location.


Elston Ave., Milwaukee Ave., and Caldwell Ave. all cut northwest through the heart of the grid.

I've always been fascinated with Chicago history, and the diagonals.

I was curious as to why the anal-retentive city planners (and yes I'm looking at you Daniel Burnham) would ruin an otherwise perfect blending of form and function.

In the late 1820s, a young man came to Chicago from Detroit. The son of an Irish-Scot father and a Pottawatomie mother (some say Mohawk), he was known as Sauganash. Educated at The Jesuit School in Detroit, he spoke French, English, and his mother's native Pottawatomie.

He was befriended by one of the original Chicago merchants, Mark Beaubien. Beaubien himself was the son of a French father and Pottawatomie mother, which may have contributed to their friendship (Beaubien Street in the Loop is just east of Michigan Ave. and is about three blocks long. Most people here have no idea who it's named after but that's another post.)

That area of Chicago was the heart of a small Indian village back in 1820, when Sauganash came rolling into town. Perhaps Indian village is a stretch, but the Ottawa, Pottawatomie, Chippewa and leftover Black Hawks were much more numerous than the newly arrived white folk, and within the city there was ongoing intercourse between settlers and native Americans. Trading furs and goods back and forth, crops exchanged for whiskey, Chippewa chiefs, French fur trappers, English settlers all elbow to elbow at the bars. The original melting pot.

Beaubien thought so much of Sauganash that he named a hotel after him, the first of its kind in Chicago. It's said that Beaubien used to greet mud-covered travelers with a blanket, and lead them to a vacant spot on the floor. While taking payment for the night's lodging, Beaubien would warn the lodger to "watch out for the Indians, they'll try stealing the blanket." Once the lodger was sound asleep, Beaubien would gently peel the blanket off the travel-weary snoozer, and sell it to the next guy in the door.

Beaubien's Tavern (on what is now Beaubien Street) was a meeting place for the social climbers just in from the east coast. Young men by the boatload came down the St. Lawrence, through the Erie Canal, and from across Lake Michigan, while wagonloads arrived via the 2000 mile rut-filled muddy trail that came around the southern tip of the lake by what is now Gary, Indiana. They came here to work hard and get rich. And sleep on the floor of the Sauganash Hotel.

They would gather at Beaubien's to talk current events, like the proposed US Government buyout of the Indian land they were all standing on.

(Less than 30 years later, in a building called the Wigwam, on the very same land formerly occupied by the Sauganash Hotel, Abraham Lincoln was nominated at the 1860 Republic Convention.)

In September 1833, the US government called a grand council in Chicago of the 77 chiefs of the Chippewa, Ottawa, and Pottawatomie tribes. On Sept 26th, a treaty was signed with 76 chiefs affixing their marks and one, Sau-Ko-Nock, his name to the formal agreement.

For the next two years, an annuity was paid to the tribes within the city itself. After that, the payment of goods would be delivered to the Indians at their new home....west of the Mississippi River.

The annuity consisted of food, blankets, pots and pans, and assorted other goods that were distributed by piling the stuff in mounds on the west side of the Chicago river near what is now the intersection of Randolph and Canal Streets.

The first payment was made in 1834, and the Indians were made to sit in a large circle around the mounds of merchandise, and it was literally thrown to/at them. The morons who were in charge of distribution lost all control and soon the Indians were all over the small mountains of goods.

When the distribution was completed, the Indians then bartered away what they'd just been given for clothing and whiskey from the traders waiting nearby.

The final payment to be made (in the city) in 1835 was a much more dramatic event. Indians by the thousands gathered on the edge of the city in full ceremonial splendor. Faces painted, and with eagle and hawk feathers knotted into their hair, they came on horseback and on foot. Their numbers dwarfed that of the white residents of Chicago.

They knew that this was their final day as the caretakers of this land, and the idea that a government would claim actual ownership of land enraged them. Before leaving the country of the Illinois, they would leave an impression on the strangers who had settled in the land they'd occupied for generations.

A thousand warriors gathered at the council house on the river's north side and began to march into the heart of the city. They carried clubs and tomahawks. As they entered what is now The Loop, their music makers began chanting and banging their drums. They slammed large sticks together as they gathered for a War Dance.

The column of warriors poured into the city and went street by street, shouting and shrieking their dislike for those who now called Chicago their own.

People were scared shitless, and stayed locked in their ramshackle homes, peering out through the blinds and expecting the worst. An Indian uprising.

John Dean Caton, who later became Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court witnessed the event from the Sauganash Hotel. He described what he saw as "all the worst passions which can find a place in the breast of a savage- fierce anger, terrible hate, dire revenge, remorseless cruelty...."

It was only afterward, and to his great relief, Caton realized it was only a demonstration of Indian might, designed "to test the nerve of the stoutest." Given the overwhelming force that the Indians possessed, Caton noted that had they actually attacked the city, "They would have left not a living soul to tell the story."

And then, the Indians withdrew from the city.

Much has been speculated about the role of mediator that Sauganash played in helping prevent a massacre in 1835. He is said to have had big cred within the community. The Indians knew he was able to speak and write in English and French. They knew he was friends with Mark Beaubien.

The white men knew he was Jesuit educated and that his father was a white man. Rumors of Sauganash's connection to Tecumseh and his life as a chief in Michigan were never confirmed, but the white men used that propaganda to convince Washington that they had "their man" in Sauganash.

Sauganash is actually a butchered version of the native American term for Englishman. Mark Beaubien and the white power brokers in early Chicago actually called him Billy Caldwell.

Caldwell Ave. and Milwaukee Ave. are diagonals for a very simple reason.

They were here first.

They were here long before Daniel Burnham and the other city planners laid out the orderly grid pattern on top of them.

They were Indian trails that pre-dated the white settlers.

Today, if I leave my office and drive south on Milwaukee Ave, I can cut east on Touhy and pick up Caldwell Ave. About a mile south of there, Caldwell curves over the Edens Expressway, right at the edge of the lovely little Chicago neighborhood known as Sauganash, bordered on the west by Cicero Ave.

And Caldwell Ave. named for Archibald "Billy" Caldwell now sits directly atop the route used by the Ottawa, the Chippewa, and the Pottawatomie as they departed Chicago, forever, 175 years ago.


Anonymous said...

good stuff, Schmutz. those Forest Preserves - Caldwell Woods, Forest Glen were my old stomping grounds. We used to find old arrowheads there and held many of our own "Pow - wows" on those grounds. Beaubien elementary school was home to a lot of my buddies (just south of Foster). I still get together with my budies at the Forest Glen every summer and usually play 9 holes at Billy Caldwell golf course when I'm back in town. We always felt the presence. Thanks for the history lesson, brother.

- - Robert

Anonymous said...

That was fascinating. You know I will be hunting those streets down when I am there this summer.

On another note, I've been meaning for a while now to let you know how glad I am to know you. Your writing is passionate, authentic and honest--much like the man who writes it. I laugh when I read old posts of yours that just infuriated me. Thanks for being one of those rare people who I can like, respect and admire more as I know you better, instead of less.


Michael said...


Thanks as always for stopping by. Glad to know you recognize the terrain in its modern incarnation.

I love telling this story to my Sauganash and Edgebrook customers. About 5 years ago or so, one couple made me stop in mid-story and called their kids in from watching TV so they could hear it too. That made my week. Tellin' ya dude, there are ghosts all over the place here.

btw- Someone told me they replaced the rubber mats with grass tees at Billy Caldwell.

Penal-Colony said...


That was really very enjoyable and informative. That procession would've been a sight to behold. On so many levels it symbolizes what America has lost to become.

There are watershed moments like that that define a nation, and mostly they just creep off surreptitiously into the night, without the awareness of those they affect the most.

Thanks for that.

Michael said...

Summertime is the best time to explore here Bite. The northwest side forest preserves are a lasting reminder of what the city used to be like back then. And all the streets along Caldwell have names like Hiawatha, Minnetonka, Keota, Minnehaha, Mendota.

Ghosts I tell ya, ghosts.

As for my old infuriating posts, .. Well, I wasn't exactly house-broken was I?

Michael said...

We drive up and down these streets every day, content in the knowledge that we own the place and always will. Ignorant of what we as a people did to make it so.

Can't turn back the clock of course, but that doesn't mean we forget the sins of our fathers.

I like reminding people here that we stole the joint, and if they'd been of a mind, the natives could have slaughtered us instead of ceremonially telling us to go fuck ourselves, and peacefully withdrawing.

Penal-Colony said...


Can you imagine being a child and sitting at a window as that pageant went by? That would've stayed with one always ... like watching a moment of history, slow and processional, exuberant and angry and alive, nobly passing away forever. Surely there's art in that event.

Michael said...


The few really good accounts I've read of the event tell an amazing story. In "Fabulous Chicago", Emmett Dedmon does such a nice job that I found myself worrying that there'd been a massacre that I'd somehow never heard of. Edge of my seat with anticipation. The warriors, according to Emmett, were going literally up to people's front doors and screaming at them as they huddled inside with the kids.

Had they attacked, rather than stage a demonstration, it would have been Little Big Horn 40 years early. Total slaughter. Some say Sauganash was a hero for helping avert that, while others see him as something of a traitor. Different time, different world. I sure would have liked to have seen this place back then, how different it must have felt.

Penal-Colony said...

I can't help think Sokurov but an 'American Ark'. It has that same epic quality & potential.

Michael said...

I was thinking that very same thing while scribbling this last night John. A walk though time, and conversations with the ghosts who lived here before me. There might just be a book there, definitely worth considering.

Penal-Colony said...

If you would write such a book, and you could, and you definitely should, might I recommend that you read something of W.G. Sebald before you begin. His handful of books [before he died tragically] are very important. His Natural Theory of Destruction and Austerlitz are particularly awesome.

You've got the goods to do it ... Hell, it might even drag you away from the mush-pit!

Michael said...

Mosh pit? Who me? You were supposed to wait until I was through with the pacifiers before setting in on me about the other thing.(LAM needed to have her ass kicked. Sue me.)

I just did a quick read on your man Sebald.

"They are notable for their curious and wide-ranging mixture of fact (or apparent fact), recollection and fiction, often punctuated by indistinct black-and-white photographs set in evocative counterpoint to the narrative rather than illustrating it directly. His novels are presented as observations and recollections made while traveling around Europe. They also have a dry and mischievous sense of humour."

(Gee, I wonder why John would suggest this dude!)

On The Natural History of Destruction sounds fascinating. Sort of a Vonnegut Slaughterhouse 5 thing?

It's interesting to me that you'd mention Ark this morning. Never before have I written something short like this and felt an urge to go further with it, and yet I've been pondering that fucking thought since 10P last night. A book.

Between your Russian Ark heads-up, and what I just learned about Sebald (and yes I will certainly seek out these titles) I think you understand what I would be going for in such a book. So thank you, for both the referrals, and the compliment.

For the 75th time, I'm not a writer but I think I could pull something like that off. I can do dialog pretty well, and I do have some historical knowledge. Whether or not that would translate into something that could be sustained through a novel-length deal or not ...I don't know. Only one way to find out I guess.

Penal-Colony said...


Only by writing is anybody a writer. You do it extraordinarily well, and I'm not bulshitting you. Yourself and Keifus drive me batty the way you underestimate your skills.

I apologize about the Mish-Pit comment. I forgot about the moratorium ... fug id.

I really enjoy your posts like this and think you're definitely onto something. You'll get a good kick out of Sebald.

Michael said...

I still have friends at Procrastination, and enjoy popping in. Mosh Pit to me is the other place, which I rarely visit. Then, the occasional ooops.

The idea of writing a book intimidates me. Fear of investing loads of time and then not liking it, fear of others not liking it, rejection maybe, I don't know. Whatever the reason, it's stupid. Not like I'd be walking into a publishing house with a box of paper hoping to be that 1 in 1000 that gets printed and bound. The internet opens an entirely new set of doors, and encouragement from guys with actual talent such as yourself certainly gives me some confidence that such an effort could be very rewarding even if it doesn't put a dime in my pocket. So thanks brother.

Keifus said...

Wow, there aren't very many stories in that slice of history that aren't heartbreaking, but I have to admit, thoroughly intimidating white Chicago before turning over and marching into the sunset, at least that's an exit with some damn dignity.

(Love the bits about Sauganash's name and background though. No doubt as legit as your average Chalabi. Some shit never changes.)

The layout of Chicago is described a hell of a lot like Washington DC's, and I guess there was definitely some inspiration from that neoclassicism (the right word?) that L'Enfant had employed, a downright fervor for that sort of thing among the same stable of Chicago (and guest) architects that had just brought the worlds fair. (Been reading a little this morning.)

I'd buy the book, Smutty.

[I'm currently simultaneously reading Richard Feynman's "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out" (saw it on the discount rack, and I believe you'd recommended it) and David Foster Wallace's "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men." They're each broken up into short passages, and I'm alternating. Its a weird experience: sort of like good muse/bad muse, one perched on each shoulder.]

Michael said...

Yeah but you've read every book that's ever been written Keifus! (Thanks buddy, I'm roughing an outline now. This might take a year or so, so I'll let you know when it's ready.)

Awesome link, thank you. Bookmarked. Source material. Burnham was the real deal. Imagine Sullivan, Wright, guys like Burnham and Ogden, the big money people like Swift, Morton, Armour, all looking at a blank slate and being told to have at it. What a time to have been here.

As for Wallace, I've only read Infinite Jest. HULU had John Kaszinski's film version of Hideous Men up for free viewing last year, but now it's just one of those "the making of" 8 minute trailers.

If you enjoy the Pleasure of Finding Things Out, and I'm sure you will, the BBC2 doc that it was based upon can be viewed HERE.

Keifus said...

Hah. The funny part is that I'm not all that prolific a reader (and even still, I need something resembling a "life"), I just like to write about it after.

I've never read Wallace before. I am finding him at times viciously funny (and targeting the viciousness well), at other times, a little absorbed and childlike (despite the governing sarcasm--thanks to the unfortunate book jacket photo, I'm imagining some of these read aloud in an Adam Sandler monologue). But that's only after like three entries, so who knows.

I read a book on the Chicago world's fair a couple years ago, it spent a lot on the architects and visionaries. It was going to be your "books for buds" selection, before that whole deal started to seem all weird.


Anonymous said...


Heading to shikaakwa tomorrow for a long weekend for my niece's wedding. Will be travelling the roads of Sauganash again as I have many times. Always good to be home.I always carry memories of past history with me on my travels home. So much great history and so many stories in the city.

- - Robert

Michael said...


Welcome! No leaves on the trees yet, but at least all the snow is gone. Opening Day at Wrigley tomorrow, which seems ridiculous. Hope we have nice weather for your niece's wedding my friend. Safe travels.


Anonymous said...

Owasippe Reservation in Michigan for Scouts - one of the greatest such reserves in the states and . Owasippe himself would've enjoyed the plays put on by the scouts @ the bravery of the young warriors. Many played that role for the younger scouts. True.

Go see this place!

Camping in the Chequamegon National forest! Northern Wisconsin at its best and a real way to go over where the legends lie, and die, maybe - but legends do live on.

Thanks, Bro for the evocation.

There is a roundness.

In town,


Erica said...

Great content! Just seeing this six years after you wrote it, but I'm pretty sure your picture is of Chief Shabbona and not Sauganash. I have yet to come across an image of Sauganash.